A brand new season of Nebraska volleyball has finally arrived, although if you ask the Huskers themselves they’d tell you to expect more of the same.
This year’s theme is “To Be Continued…”
“It means a lot of things,” junior middle blocker and co-captain Lauren Stivrins said. “One of the main things we talked about is how this team is going to stay the same way for the next two years, so just continuing with this team and getting better each and every day together. And then also just continuing all of this, this legacy that the previous Nebraska volleyball players have left for us.”
The team’s other mantra is “29,029,” the elevation of Mt. Everest.
"Many people say the elevation is 29,000 feet, forgetting the final 29 feet,” Cook said. “We got to that 29,000 [in 2018]. We didn't get that last 29 feet. All the bad things happen in the last 29 feet. People mentally let go, they're exhausted, they get stuck. Our whole theme is we've got to figure out how to get the last 29 feet."
The Huskers have two full weeks of practice under their belts and they’ll get a chance to show off the progress they’ve made to the fans on Saturday evening. The annual Red-White Scrimmage is set for 6 p.m. CT at the Devaney Center.
“I think they’ve worked really hard, which doesn’t surprise me, but I’m really happy about that,” Coach John Cook said after practice on Thursday. “They’ve pushed really hard. We got three more days of training than last year so they've had to grind a little bit more for a little bit longer which is good. We finished our last two-a-day today and now we let them recover a little bit tomorrow and then play Red-White. We’ll burn a lot of energy in that match and that should be a really competitive match. I’m really pleased with how hard they’ve worked and the level of intensity and the level of effort that they’ve given everyday has been really good.”
Cook said that nobody can afford to cruise in practice because of the depth on the roster and how competitive practices have been. In fact, the B side, made up primarily of reserves, has gotten the better of the starting unit on most of their competition days.
“It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day, those are your teammates and you want someone who’s going to push you to be better,” Stivrins said. “To have that competition every single day when we walk into this gym is something that is going to help us in the long run. Obviously it kind of sucks right now but we’re still working out a lot of things on our side too. There’s no position that’s set in stone yet.”
A big part of that competitiveness is Nebraska’s freshman class. Cook said they are a “full level better than where they started.” Two of those freshmen, outside hitter Madi Kubik and defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles, got a head start on the rest of their class by enrolling for the spring semester and they were both working with the starters in practice on Thursday.
Cook said his goals for the Red-White Scrimmage is different every year based on the makeup of the roster.
“Do we have a really strong returning group? Are we competing? It’s a great opportunity for people to step up and show that they’re ready for primetime,” Cook said. “It’s always interesting to see who performs in that match because it is stressful. We’re going to have a big crowd, it’s stressful, the dynamics are a little bit different because our fans don’t know who to root for. I wish they would just pick a side and cheer for those guys and make it game-like but every year I plead for that and it doesn’t happen. But it’s still nerve-wracking to go out there to play because it’s as big as any match.”
Kubik and Knuckles got a brief taste of what it’s like to play in front of a sold-out Nebraska crowd in the team’s spring exhibition in McCook against Colorado State. However, attendance at Saturday’s scrimmage will be close to five times that of what they experienced in McCook.
>> Sophomore defensive specialist Chen Abramovich is in a walking boot because of a broken foot. Cook said it was a non-volleyball injury that she suffered about four weeks ago and that he’s not sure when she’ll be back.
>> Freshman defensive specialist Emma Gabel suffered a torn ACL during the spring club season and will miss the 2019 season.
>> Freshman Riley Zuhn is listed as both an outside hitter and a middle blocker on the roster, and Cook is playing her at both spots in practice.
“We have her probably 50-50,” Cook said. “I still don’t know what her best position is. She’s a good volleyball player, she’s a really good blocker and she’s able to jump back and forth as well as anybody I’ve seen. I just want to figure out what role we can get her in so she can contribute because she can help us win matches.”
>> Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney were two of Nebraska’s top servers last season, and now they’re both gone. Cook said his top three servers so far have been junior outside hitter Lexi Sun, freshman setter Nicklin Hames and sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller. Hames was second on the team in aces last season as a freshman.
>> As off Thursday morning, only a limited number of tickets including standing room only remained. Last year’s attendance was 7,965, making it the first time the scrimmage was a sellout.
Nebraska released the rosters for the Red-White Scrimmage.
🔴 vs ⚪️
Who ya got? 🤔
See you all tonight! pic.twitter.com/UDvDna0WQg
— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) August 24, 2019
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.